Muslims from across the state will gather in Frankfort on Wednesday for the inaugural Muslim Day at the state Capitol.
People of the Islamic faith will tour the Capitol building, meet and speak with legislators who represent them, receive training on how to advocate for issues affecting the Muslim community, listen to guest speakers, including state legislators and national representatives of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and have a silent prayer in the Capitol rotunda.
The free event starts at 9 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m. It’s sponsored by the Kentucky Chapter of CAIR and multiple city partners in respective Muslim communities. Lunch will be provided by the Islamic Center of Frankfort.
Ashiq Zaman, president of the Islamic Center of Frankfort, says he’s “very excited about the first statewide Muslim gathering in our capital city."
"Muslim communities have organized locally in almost all corners of Kentucky for a while," he said. "We find Muslim-owned businesses and restaurants serving halal (permissible) food pretty common.
“Muslim communities run Islamic centers, charitable organizations and even Islamic schools are becoming common in major cities in our state. However, I am not aware of any attempt to organize Muslims statewide.”
Zaman has a master’s degree in civil engineering and is a branch manager for the state Department of Revenue. He said he appreciates CAIR for taking the initiative to organize Muslims statewide through the upcoming event in Frankfort.
“I am sure many Muslims will visit the state Capitol and meet their legislators for the first time,” Zaman said. “Personally, it will be an opportunity for me to learn the process of civic engagement.”
He said he also looks forward to meeting other Muslim community leaders.
“At a time when Muslims are increasingly becoming the innocent targets of prejudice and hate, I feel compelled to participate in events like this for adopting and promoting just and equitable policies in the state,” Zaman said. “I also hope to clear up many common misconceptions about the Muslim community and Islamic faith through this event.”
Waheeda Muhammad, chair of the Kentucky Chapter of CAIR, has said one thing that really helps is for people to know a Muslim one-on-one, “and that’s part of encouraging Muslims to get out, to be involved in society, because if people know you personally, that’s their image of Islam.”
She said the event will encourage Muslims to get involved in government, including running for office.
Muslim visitors also plan to advocate for certain legislation, including stronger anti-bullying laws.
CAIR invited Gov. Andy Beshear to meet with the group. However, Sebastian Kitchen, deputy communications director for the governor’s office, said Thursday Beshear will be unable to attend the event.
Muhammad said Muslim Day at the Capitol is not government-sanctioned and no taxpayer funds are being used. She hopes it will become an annual event.
A statement from the governor’s office said, “Any organization that files a request and receives a permit through the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties can use the Capitol rotunda. They are not reviewed or approved by the governor’s office.”
Statewide, in early January, around 100 adults and 74 students had signed up to attend Muslim Day, Zaman said.
About 40 families attend the Islamic Center of Frankfort, “and we are expecting at least 10 persons from our center to attend for the whole day, and others will attend part of the day.”
Zaman also serves on the Frankfort Interfaith Council, a group of 20 women and men voluntarily working to promote respect and understanding of all religions. Other Muslims on the local interfaith council include Mohammad Razavi, a native of Iran; Aejaz Shaik, formerly of India; and Titin Farida, formerly of Indonesia. Shaik’s son, Afeef Shaik, a senior honor student at Franklin County High School, is working to create a youth interfaith council, which would bring together students from local high schools “to openly discuss religion in a relaxed and fun setting.”
Other Muslims on the local interfaith council include Mohammad Razavi, a native of Iran; Aejaz Shaik, formerly of India; and Titin Farida, formerly of Indonesia. Shaik’s son, Afeef Shaik, a senior honor student at Franklin County High School, is working to create a youth interfaith council, which would bring together students from local high schools “to openly discuss religion in a relaxed and fun setting.”
Jim Jackson, a retired public schools superintendent, planted the seeds for the diverse interfaith council more than seven years ago. A member of First United Methodist Church in downtown Frankfort, Jackson believes the most important purpose of the council “is to demonstrate in a concrete way how Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and others can come together in an environment of respect and acceptance and learn from each other.”
“That type of atmosphere creates a positive learning environment that can prevent and drive away fear, distrust and misunderstandings in our community,” Jackson said.
As a spokesman for the interfaith council regarding Wednesday’s Muslim Day at the Capitol, Jackson said the council is “very supportive” of the upcoming event.
“Our interfaith council will always be supportive of members from all faith groups becoming more knowledgeable and familiar with our governing processes and our legislative representatives,” Jackson said. “Equally important is for legislators to know and interact with their constituents from all faith groups.”
Charles Pearl, a retired State Journal staff writer, is a freelance writer and a member of the Frankfort Interfaith Council.